Photos: CU-Boulder touts 4/20 success despite boundary breech, concert disaster

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CU-Boulder's decision to ban campus visitors and close Norlin Quad in an effort to shrink the annual 4/20 event prompted an unsuccessful court challenge and plenty of controversy.

But despite security breaches and a free Wyclef Jean concert that failed to siphon off more than a handful of students, a CU-Boulder spokesman was pleased by the response as a whole.

"I think it worked very well," says CU's Bronson Hilliard (disclosure: a longtime friend). "There were no confrontations with police, which was great. There was no violence, and there was no crowd of ten- to twelve-thousand people on the Norlin Quad."

Not that the campus was entirely free of 4/20 related activity. Despite officers at every major campus entrance, a sizable group of students managed to mark the occasion by lighting up. Here's Hilliard's account.

"From where I was, the crowd kind of converged from two areas," he recalls. "There was a group that marched onto the campus from the Hill, and a group that was on the steps of Norlin Library -- and once they heard about the first group, the group from the library joined the crowd. I think they were on the way to Farrand Field, but they stopped at Duane Field, a little complex behind the physics complex. It's kind of a sunken field; it's got a slope to it. And I would say there were maybe 300 active smokers and then sort of a ring around them up on the elevated portion on the hill that I'm guessing was anywhere from three- to five-hundred people who were watching.

"They all assembled within around fifteen minutes," he continues. "Wyclef Jean's brother showed up and invited the crowd to come to the concert. Then they had the light-up, and everybody dispersed within about a half hour, without incident as far as I know."

There was no wave of arrests at 4:20 p.m. Indeed, despite warnings that officers would be "more active" when it came to handing out tickets, the number of official police contacts was actually lower this year than last. The CUPD made three arrests for trespassing on the quad and issued eleven general trespassing citations and one summons for possession of marijuana -- fifteen actions total, as compared to 28 (five arrests and 28 tickets, most pot-related) in 2011. For that, Hilliard credits the campus force.

"They're really trained to deal with a wide range of things on a college campus, and they have a live-and-let-live philosophy," he maintains. "They're very friendly, professional people, and they enforce the law without resorting to extreme tactics. I think we were all incredibly impressed by the way the police conducted themselves, and the way they interacted with the crowd. And there were a lot of people who went up to police and said, 'Thanks for doing this. Thanks for helping us put an end to this in a way that was really professional.'"

Granted, the image of the response that may stick with many TV-news viewers involved an officer chasing a student across Norlin Quad while a huzzahing throng looked on. But Hilliard hardly sees that as emblematic of the day.

"There was one kid who sprinted across the field and got tackled," he says. "But that happens at football games, concerts and public events all the time. There's always one person who's trying to make a statement and draw attention to himself. And the others who were sitting on the field were treated professionally. They were escorted off the ground, not manhandled, and they were given a chance to extensively address the media during the walk to the paddy wagon. So I think it was a fine day for the police."

Page down to read more about CU-Boulder's take on this year's 4/20 event and see more photos by Britt Chester. In comparison, the concert was a boondoggle. As documented by Westword music editor Dave Herrera, the event drew an unbelievably paltry crowd to the Coors Events Center; Hilliard estimates total attendance at around 1,250 for a venue that seats more than 11,000, but Westword's Nick Callaio puts the number at more like 400. (Clarification: Hilliard tells us the 1,250 figure is based on swiped student ID cards used in lieu of tickets -- although he acknowledges that all of these people may not have been in the building at the same time.) As such, the CU student government and the university's program council, which funded the event, spent huge bucks per person. Hilliard had previously estimated the total cost for the show at around $150,000, with Jean's contract noting that he personally received $80,000.

What went wrong? In Hilliard's words, "I think there's a lot to speculate about -- obviously number one being people angry about 4/20 being curtailed on the campus. I think people might have taken that out on Wyclef."

Of course, Jean is quite a few years removed from his hit-making prime. Would the concert have done better had it featured, say, a major dubstep bill? "I'm not the person to speculate on that," Hilliard acknowledges. "If I were making the call, I'd have Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. But I want to emphasize that this was the idea of the student government. CUSG conceived of the concert and worked with program council to find an artist who was available."

Likewise, Hilliard goes on, the CU administration had nothing to do with Jean's contract, which included a clause that appears to have forbidden him from making any pro-marijuana statements from the stage. The pertinent section of the agreement reads:

Attraction assures the University that no speech or performance will be given, the content of which would violate the laws of the United States, or the State of Colorado. Further the Agency shall indemnify the University against any damage caused to its property or injury to its employees, faculty, staff, students, or guests resulting from performers agitating or exhorting present violent or illegal action, when such action on part of the performer(s) has been established as a violation of the laws of the United States, the State of Colorado, or City of Boulder. Should any litigation result from the content of any speech or performance, the Agency agrees to assume full financial and legal responsibility for all required response.

As for the thought process behind this demand, Hilliard says, "What they've told me is that it isn't what it seems. They weren't so much looking for what might gently be termed a Nancy Reagan just-say-no message. They just wanted people to come to the concert whether they were pro-4/20 or anti-4/20. They were hoping that if the day was depoliticized, there would be a come-one, come-all feel. They wanted everyone to feel welcome regardless of their opinions about 4/20.

"The main thing about the concert is that the student government tried something," he adds. "They were willing not just to give us support for ending 4/20. They were willing to come up with some ideas to give students an activity, and they were willing to fund that activity. And they're the first student government in the seven years or so that we've had a working group looking at the 4/20 issue that's come forward with a strong position, and the first student government to act on it."

With that in mind, he salutes the moxie of the CUSG. "They took a position that might reasonably be termed unpopular with many members of the student body. The student body is fairly polarized on this issue; I think the majority would like to see it go away, but a strong, vocal minority on campus that asserted itself during this process likes it. So CUSG took a gutsy position and I give them full credit for that."

By the way, the party representing the current leadership was defeated in recent campus elections, although Hilliard thinks the defeat may have more to do with debate over just-instituted tuition hikes than 4/20.

Debriefing about this year's approach, as well as calculating the overall costs, will have to wait for a few days. After all, CU is hosting a late-breaking visit by President Barack Obama tomorrow evening. But Hilliard still sees the event as a success and argues that "the First Amendment is alive and well and untarnished on the campus. We had abundant free speech and exchange of ideas. A lot of those issues came out in the court case last week, when a judge said the university has not only the right but the responsibility to be able to secure the campus grounds on behalf of the students, the faculty and the staff, so they can do their work.

"There were two things that came out of this ordeal that surprised me. One was the tenor that this was going to be a fascist police state with no free speech if we tried to secure Norlin Quad for one day. And the other was extensive reporting about fish fertilizer," a foul-smelling substance that was spread on the quad in advance of 4/20. "In a short period of time, it basically forced me to become an ichthyologist and an expert on fish fertilizer."

Proof that learning took place on campus this past Friday.

Page down to see more images of 4/20 at CU-Boulder by photographer Britt Chester. Page down to see more of Britt Chester's photos from 4/20 at CU-Boulder. Page down to see more of Britt Chester's photos from 4/20 at CU-Boulder. Follow and like the Michael Roberts/Westword Facebook page.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Photos: Smoky scenes from 4/20 marijuana smoke-out in Civic Center Park."

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